In his never-ending quest to please everyone, President Obama has made yet another concession to critics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For once, however, the compromise he offered was not to the GOP, but to Americans who refused to be the victims of yet another broken promise. In selling Obamacare to the nation back in 2010, the President had assured Americans that the ACA would not require anyone to buy new health insurance if they were happy with their current plan. Shortly after the rollout of the new law a few weeks ago, however, millions received cancellation notices by their insurance companies and outrage ensued. Feigning more ignorance than concern, Obama announced a rule change to the law that would allow insurance companies to keep those it had planned to drop for another year.
The President’s attempt to take responsibility for his less-than-accurate portrayal of life under Obamacare is definitely commendable. Yet would it have been more productive for him to simply bite the bullet and admit that he was wrong than to propose a conciliatory deal to the public that may make matters worse? Since extending this olive branch, Obama has faced wrath from the GOP, who claim it does not go far enough, and from insurance companies, who say this change in policy could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums. All of this in the name of appeasing the 5% of Americans who have individual plans, only half of whom will be affected by these canceled policies. (USA Today, “House Approves Bill to Allow People to Keep Insurance”, 11.15.2013)
For a president not seeking re-election, Obama’s eagerness to please everyone at all times is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. It is unfortunate that a very small percentage of (predominantly healthy, middle class) Americans will have to pay higher premiums on the new insurance than they would have had to pay on their old plans, and they have every right to be angry that they have essentially been lied to.
In the midst of all the furor, however, most have forgotten that these plans are being canceled for a reason; they are substandard, and do not provide the minimum benefits and consumer protections that the all new insurance plans will be required to have under the new health law. According to the New York Times, some of these plans “had deductibles as high as $10,000 or $25,000 and required large co-pays after that, and some didn’t cover hospital care.” These were plans distributed by insurance companies when they were allowed to discriminate against applicants based on preexisting conditions, charging people who were once sick exorbitant rates for care. (New York Times, “Insurance Policies Not Worth Keeping,” 11.02.13)
Moreover, Obama’s proposed fix only delays the inevitable. Those affected will have to purchase new insurance plans after one year, anyway, and extending the plans could actually lead to even higher premiums in the long run – exactly what Obama is trying to prevent with his “solution.” So is temporarily assuaging the ire of this 2.5% really worth the upheaval of the entire insurance market? If Obama was a man of his word with a reputation to uphold, it may indeed be worth it. But after five years of wishy-washy leadership and broken promises, Obama has failed to create this reputation of integrity that he now wishes to salvage. If he wants to save anything, it should be the ACA from its untimely demise. While it would not necessarily spell doom for Obamacare, Obama’s decision to renege on a fundamental aspect of the law requiring all to buy new health insurance immediately – a requirement intended to help fund the insurance of the very people ACA aims to help – does not say anything about his political integrity. It says only that he is weak.
If successful, health care reform will be Obama’s legacy, and rightfully so. His relentless determination to push through the Affordable Care Act at all costs stands in stark contrast to his usual strategy of appeasement. His boldness was refreshing, but he has chosen to reassume his docile temperament at precisely the wrong moment. As the future of the Affordable Care Act hangs delicately in the balance, its critics are searching for any and all vulnerabilities – in the plan and, by extension, in the President – that could bring them both down for good.
—Natasha Bertrard ’14 is a political science and philosophy double major.